Who Is Buying Your Personal Information and the Internet of Things?


Who owns your personal information? Who gives companies the right to collect data about you, your family, your friends, your activities, where you live, what you eat, drink, your health, how you travel? Somewhere along the line you probably did, because you didn’t read, or understand the fine print when you signed up for an application, an email newsletter, a loyalty card, or you aren’t worried about your privacy.

There has been much talk about the NSA, and big data monitoring systems in most countries around the world designed to protect us all from terrorism. There has been a lot of talk about how privacy is being eroded with social media. Many of us have the philosophy that if we don’t do anything wrong, we have nothing to hide. But who else is collecting, buying and selling personal information about you?

FuturistA recent story in The Futurist called ‘Connecting with our Connected World captured my attention, particularly when it outlined, from a Wall Street Journal article,  apparently fairly common knowledge, that many retail stores track personal shopping habits using loyalty cards and then resell the data to marketers. The Wall Street Journal article ‘confirmed’ that this same data is now being purchased by insurance companies for the purpose of setting premiums and investigating claims.

With the Internet of Things (IoT), we are now being encouraged to buy fridges with built in bar code readers and wireless connectivity, so that we can scan items we use and feed them to our shopping list. Many of us now have grocery applications, such as the Countdown app, which I have blogged about before in my SoLoMo Consulting blog.These apps monitor what you buy, suggest specials, recipes and even navigate you up and down the aisles of your nearest supermarket so you don’t have to backtrack for things you forgot.

As Richard Yonck of Intelligent Future LLC in Seattle points out in The Futurist, “the rate at which a household consumes sugar, salt, tobacco and alcohol would potentially be an open book.” What could your health insurer infer from that?

It names them

It names them

Combine the information from your mobile apps that know your location, where you have given permission (which is probably half of the apps you use today), your climate control, light controls (that suggest you might be home, or not), fitness apps, social media (freely searchable with tools like Facebook Graph like the example which names people who like Edam cheese,) the direction Google and Apple are heading, to be able to predict what services you may want next based on your context, profile, time and location, your life is an open book today.

The problem with all this big data that we are ‘willingly’ sharing, is that we really don’t know what we are agreeing to or what the data is being used for. I don’t believe we have adequate laws nationally or internationally to protect us from abuse of this data by any agency, business, government department, insurance company, utility company, finance company, the list is infinite.

According to a story in The Public Herald it’s pretty much a free for all. For example they say:

  • Experion sells data updated weekly on new parents, new homeowners and other new event life triggers.
  • Have a read of what information Epsilon sells in this PDF. Who reads Science Fiction novels? Ever wondered why your phone keeps ringing with charities asking for donations? They buy lists.
  • Back to the Public Herald which says that Disney sells data including who bought what, the age and gender of the children, age and occupation of the people who purchased from them and more.

These are just scratching the surface. It isn’t necessarily all bad, the problem is that there doesn’t appear to be any authority tracking who shares what information with whom. The issues come down to informed consent. When you sign a form, enter a competition online with an attractive prize and you click, ‘yes, you can share my information with partners who may have items of interest to me’ perhaps because you think you might have a higher chance of winning the prize, you are losing control of your data.

There are laws designed to protect us from spam, but we often sign away rights without understanding the implications. Companies selling our data will argue that they have our approval to use and share our information. The flow of data will become so convoluted that it will become impossible to know who has what. Big Data companies will consolidate this data also with our ‘implied’ approval.

Governments need to be thinking about this now, if it is not already too late. Of course they arguably need the data as well in order to provide quality health, education and other services, including planning future smart cities. They need as much data as possible, although they don’t in many cases need the granular level down to individual people.

So as a footnote, think about all the cool Internet of Things you are buying over the next couple of years, like exercise devices, remote controlled security cameras and home access, climate control, sleep and snoring monitors, lighting, car telematics, electronic ticketing for public transport and much more, weigh up the cool with potential risk and consider that if legitimate organizations can access your data, so potentially can people wanting to commit crimes. It is already known that burglars steal product to order based on what they find on social media apps like Facebook (had a great weekend on the jet ski and now I’m off to Fiji for a couple of weeks and I’m putting the dogs in a kennel).

A Good Read About Retail Book Stores and Glenfield Paper Plus


I was pleasantly surprised with some great service from Paper Plus in Glenfield this week and want to share the experience with you. Many book retailers complain that they can’t compete with online stores. Some like Borders might even see the fatalities as a  fait accomplis. I don’t agree.

Inside the Medium

Inside the Medium

So here’s what happened. I got an email from my daughter saying that Kelvin Cruickshank, the psychic medium was going  to be doing a book signing on Tuesday evening at Paper Plus, Glenfield at 6PM. That was too early for us and given that my wife is a big fan and it was her birthday yesterday, I rang to see if I could buy a book and get it autographed without going to the signing.

As an aside, one of the things that I used to love about Borders in the USA was book signings and the ability to even briefly meet authors. It’s not something that Borders in New Zealand ever did much of, in fact sometimes it seemed like the only things Borders in New Zealand had in common with the American stores I loved was the layout, encouragement to grab a book and take it into the in-store cafe and huge width of stock. It’s a shame they didn’t step outside of their business and listen to some of my ideas, because I think they could still be here and profitable, but that’s another story.

So, when I rang the Glenfield store, the response was “I’m sure we can do that for you.” I told them what I would like Kelvin to write with his autograph, gave them my credit card details so they knew I was bona fide.

I arrived yesterday to pick up the book and the two women behind the counter told me that they made sure it was the first thing Kelvin did when he arrived at the store to make sure it happened, because the line of people waiting to meet him and get a book signed was very long. We had a brief discussion and I was able t take away a gift that my wife was thrilled to receive. Having it signed to her, with her name spelled correctly elicited a smile that was priceless.

People are always quick to complain when they are not happy with retail service, but don’t often make an effort to recognise good service, so my Award for Great Service for the Week goes to the ladies at Paper Plus, Glenfield. I don’t live in the area, but I’ll go back in the future because these people care about their customers. They show a genuine interest, I don’t know if they are staff or have equity in the business (which is a franchise). If they are staff, my recommendation to the owners is to recognise them and hang on to them because it is people like that, who can make the difference between buying something online or going into the store. It is of course just one aspect of good retailing, but such a critical one. A great looking well stocked store with staff that don’t like their industry, their managers, or think of it as a just a job, is on a slippery slope.

What is a Blog and How do I Get One?


Everyone is talking about writing blogs. In the world of IT and in large companies, people are writing online. It might be newsletters, articles, pages on websites and of course social media. That’s all very well for people that like writing and can do it well, but what about busy people working in their SME business? What about people who are good at what they do but are not good at writing?

I’m not going to tell you in detail what a blog is. The web is full of explanations, Wikipedia, defines it as well as anyone here. A blog is effectively an easy tool to allow you to share your passion and message with the world. It’s a way to attract new clients, to share your knowledge, to engage with people with a common interest, a way to share stories.

A blog can contain photos, video, music, polls and much more. You can allow people to comment, you can create categories of information, add keywords to help people find your information when they are looking for what you have and much more. It is also chronological and that is very important. If you are going to blog, you need to be doing it regularly so that people know there will be new information coming. They can subscribe to it and get involved with you and your brand.

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Why blog? If you don’t know the answer to that, skip the rest of this. If you have a bit of an idea, then start focusing on it. What is your end game? Do you want customers to buy your goods or services? Do you want to add value and inform people about things you are excited about? Do you want to raise your profile? Do you want new customers, or to keep existing ones? if you don’t have a goal, you’re going to have a pointless blog.
  2. Why would people read your blog? You don’t want to be preaching to the converted. You don’t want to be telling people what they already know, which a lot of blog writers do. If you are in business, what sort of questions do customers often ask you? Why do they come to you, I frequently hear people say their customers go to them because they have product knowledge. I would put it to you that if you have product knowledge, you have passion. People will read your blog for the same reason they do business with you, you have a common interest, you have helpful information and you care.
  3. How often should you blog? At least a couple of times a week or people will forget about you. Search engines will pick up on your blog is they see there is regular content and you will rise higher up the rankings and more people will find you. That might sound a lot, but they don’t have to be long. In fact any longer than this and people may well stop reading.
  4. What sort of writing style should you use? It needs to be easy to read, almost like having a conversation, but leave out the slang and the industry jargon. It also needs excellent spelling and grammar. This is a professional conversation.
  5. What should you write about? Keep it relevant to your goals and your target audience. When I was studying songwriting a common thread was write about what you know. As above, what do you know that will be useful to your reader?
  6. I want to write but I don’t have time. Then contact someone like me. You can email me at luigi@solomoconsulting.co.nz  I can get you started with your online writing and help you start the conversation.

Blogging is of course only one form of online content writing. There are newsletters, white papers, online magazines, websites and much more. What is great about a blog is that there are easy to use and often free tools. It is all kept in one place, but keeps growing. You can go back and add to stories, you can edit them if you want to. You also get analytics which means you can find out how many people are reading your blog and even what part of the world they come from. Once you get started it’s a lot of fun. Want to get started?

Here are a few blogs that I write. SoLoMo Consulting is all about Location Based Services. The Future Diaries is fiction of sorts with my futurist hat on. I pretend to be some years in the future talking about things that might be coming, mostly about technology. Imersia NZ is one I collaborate on with my colleagues at Imersia. I have more, but these will give you a bit of a mix, showing different ways of presenting information for different reasons. Of course you have already found this one, which comprises everything from technology to soapbox rants.

IS1380016f there is one final rule I would add, it would be have fun. So we have some empty chairs sitting there waiting to be filled by people who are interested in what you have to say. Let’s start the conversation:)

Census 2013 So What Did You Think?


CensusOur household did it online and I have to say it was a smooth and easy process. The questions we didn’t have to answer were grayed out and we were all done and dusted in no time. Hopefully this means that finally we can hold referendums and vote online in future.

However, to me it was a major missed opportunity to learn more about who Kiwis are, what they do and where. This seemed to be to be simply a modern version of the feudal system where nobility tried to establish how much tax they could claim from their citizens. I love the Census system, always used to use copies of the books the Statistics Department used to put out and have been a keen user of the tables and tool builders on the website over more recent years. This Big Data has a huge impact on where to do business, where to build shops and factories, schools etc and the potential to not require costly double ups of data collection as will remain necessary for many Government organisations.

Here are a few thoughts from me of things that I would have liked to know and would have been easy to include and a few comments on what was included:

Ethnicity. For a country that is so multi-ethnic there were only 8 ethnicities offered and one of them was New Zealand European. That effectively makes it a political question and one that does not allow qualitative or quantitative research. As anyone who has studied statistics knows, most European Caucasians will  select the first option, leaving us with skewed data. How about culture. I know people who will register as Chinese because they look like their ancestors, but were born and raised in New Zealand and in most things they do other than appearance are indistinguishable from any other NZ born person. On the other hand there are people who totally live the culture of their family and do not integrate much with our everyday society.

The question on what languages you can have a conversation in, was easy for people who really don’t speak English, to say they do. This to me is important because we know there are now large numbers of people who will struggle to answer a question like “where is the nearest dairy?” in English.

What is your religion? This to me is very old school. You either belong to a sect or you have no religion. What if you are agnostic, spiritual but don’t belong to a particular church? This would effectively assume that if you have no religion, you do not believe in a higher spirit, God if you will.

I would have liked to know what people’s jobs are. As a futurist, I’m aware that many of today’s roles or job titles didn’t exist 20 years ago and it would be very interesting to be able to identify shifts in trends in employment. Yes, this information is available to IRD, but I want to know these answers and you could argue the same about the table which asks about personal annual income.

The employment questions also didn’t support all options. For example, I am a founder in a couple of start-ups. I am not an employee and I do not draw any money from the companies. I work very long hours in them. But I couldn’t answer the how many hours do you work in your job, because I’m not employed by the companies. These are not family businesses or family farms, although we do have a project creating virtual pets. Because I don’t have a ‘job’ all the options below these questions were grayed out. I was left with the questions of did I apply for a job and if so, how. BTW I also do not get any sort of benefit from the Government.

The only questions on health focused on disabilities that stop you from earning money or require a benefit. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to get more information on conditions such as asthma, diabetes, ADHD, Autism, Cancer etc. where people continue to work or study. Not so much from a single point in time but from a trend perspective. Tie this into geospatial mesh blocks and area units and some very interesting information might have emerged. What about depression and mental health? If we were able to see statistics based on location, what discoveries might that lead to? Perhaps ones that Government doesn’t want to reveal?

They asked how many cars were available to the household, not how old they were, how often they were used, how big the engines were, whether they were NZ new? Yes, again I know this information is collected by other Government agencies, but it is not made available to the public and business in the same way.

Question 32 would have appealed to teachers. In the last 7 days did you work for pay, profit or income for an hour or more. Novopay anyone? How many people worked but haven’t been paid? Many have waited much more than a week, I’ve heard of people who still have pay overdue for months! (No I am not a teacher).

What else would I like to know?

  • Do you have a land-line (that has dial tone)? Because in the event of power outages like earthquakes, they often still work.
  • Do you have a broadband connection? VOIP?
  • How many computers do you have at home that can access the internet?
  • How many mobiles do you have in the household that are connected? How many of those are Smartphones?
  • How many hours a week do you spend: Playing Sport or other outdoor activities? In club or organised activities? Watching TV? Playing computer games? On social media?
  • Do you BYOD to work and use it for work purposes?
  • How often do you buy fast food or eat out?
  • What about savings? What do people do with their money? Are they part of a super scheme like Kiwi Saver? Do they buy stocks (Mighty River Power would like to know)? What was the last big purchase in the last 12 months?
  • How about leisure, do they go away for a holiday? In NZ or overseas? Can they afford one at all? How long for?

There are many more questions that could have been asked like, how easy was it to complete this online? Would you be happy to vote in the next elections online?

So in summing up, its great to finally have a Census again and I’m looking forward to finding out what has changed in New Zealand, particularly as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes, but also information like how many NZ born people have left the country permanently, what is the make up of this country today compared to the last Census.

Congratulations on what appeared to be a smooth online operation, but what a missed opportunity to get some more learning. I think there has been so much focus on finally getting the job done, that there was insufficient focus on getting some highly important and valuable new data. The world has changed so much in 5 years. It appears like Novopay, that not much else has when it comes to taking advantage of 21st Century technology.

What do you think?

It’s Hard For Retailers To Embrace New Mobile Marketing Technology


I’ve been engaged in a conversation in a mobile marketing group LinkedIn discussion where people involved in solutions such as mobile coupons are complaining that retailers are intellectually lazy and not looking to embrace new technology.

I argued that most retailers focus on BAU (Business As Usual), working in their business employing strategies and technologies they have used for years, which they understand and can deal with. They do not spend anywhere near enough time working on their business, including strategies to embrace new technologies.

sold outMany retailers have been hurt by one-day deal companies, where they gave up 50% and more in GP in the hope that if they gave great service, they would win new loyal customers. Of course we now know that didn’t work and the only ones that made big money out of it were one-day deal companies. They didn’t have to invest in inventory or carry any risk to speak of.

I’ve presented at a number of conferences on the topic of mobile and location based marketing. What I found really sad was that of all the delegates, the number of retailers at these events could generally be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I’ve been looking at how I could help retailers, particularly in New Zealand and Australia with solutions available today in a cost effective way. I think I have come up with a solution, but its going to take me a fair amount of time and money to deliver.

I will start in the area of Travel and Tourism, largely because they are more focussed on customers who are actively looking for services and new experiences and the industry is used to investing to win new business. Their market is also tough and the traditional business services continue to largely support those who own the systems, ie reservation engines, directories, commissions to tour operators, rather than retailers themselves. These businesses are easier for me to access and easier to quantify direct ROI. Also the individual transactions often have a higher dollar value, so if I can demonstrably increase their cashflow and profit and share in the gain, I can recover my costs more quickly.

I was thinking about how hard it is to get retailers out of the shop to talk to them and from years of calling on owner operator retailers in the past, trying to talk to them in their own environment with customers in store, that’s all but impossible.

So I’m thinking retail readers, if there are any here, and would welcome your feedback on the best way to get in front of you and your peers. The problem is that most of them will never read this. The majority do not attend retail conferences, they don’t even participate in their own main-street organisations. They don’t even do something as simple as co-promote their neighbours. I remember years ago hearing Mark Blumsky (past retailer and Wellington Mayor) talk at the New Zealand Retailers Association conference about how he collaborated with his neighbours by giving away free coffee coupons at the next door cafe to people who bought shoes from him and the cafe gave discount coupons for shoes to their patrons. Leading retailers (because they were at the conference) all talked about it during the lunch and coffee breaks, but I don’t know if a single one of them ever emulated the exercise.

We have amazing free services such as Foursquare and people have probably used one of these apps to check into your store. They may even be your Foursquare Mayor, but you probably don’t even know what Foursquare is.

You need to embrace mobile technology and I want to help. But you’re probably not reading this, so you will have to wait until I have helped some other people first. If you are reading this, leave a comment, connect with me and others who want to see Australasian retailers thrive and grow in this exciting new world. Learn at your own pace, but please step outside of BAU and do something. One little step a day is 365 steps a year and that’s quite a lot.

Will Bitcoin Become the new Cash?


I’ve written a number of times about mCommerce and digital wallets. Now we have loads of companies offering services for electronic payment. These include the Apple Passbook, and many apps using NFC or other means to exchange money. The key thing that joins the hundreds of apps available is that they are legitimately tied to credit cards and banks. As such they provide audit trails and of course tie the world economy together as much as that is possible.

In the future I have postulated that actual paper money will decline and potentially phase out. I could see that happening in New Zealand faster than many other countries. We only have a small number of banks and clearing houses and as such were able to be the first country to mass adopt EFTPOS in the retail environment. Many people no longer carry cash.

However there is of course the grey market and one of the challenges there, is that people who do not want their money transactions audited. There is a global economy like this. People who are paid under the table for their work, people who deal in illegal activities such as drug sales, stolen goods and others. There are also people who just want to opt out of the system or at least flip it the bird. Cash of course can work around the system easily, there is money laundering and people will accept cash for most things as I experienced a few years ago when I watched a guy buying a used Ferrari with folding money he pulled out of his denim jacket pocket.

Much of this money circulates around the system but not through it and this is a challenge if hard cash currency ceased to exist. Or is it.

Yesterday I was on my way to a Microsoft Cloud presentation (which I will blog about on one of my blogs) either SoLoMo Consulting, or Imersia). I was a little early, so I sat in my car and read the latest awesome TNW Magazine on my iPad. Its a great magazine which I recommend you read if this blog is of interest to you, because it is the Money issue. There I learned about Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is “Bitcoin is an experimental new digital currency that enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world. Bitcoin uses peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority: managing transactions and issuing money are carried out collectively by the network. Bitcoin is also the name of the open source software which enables the use of this currency.”

Effectively here is no bank, no fees, no audit trail. There are all sorts of businesses, even retailers, who will accept payment in Bitcoins just as businesses accept payment in other forms of money, such as Bartercard Dollars. The difference again of course is that Bartercard still connects to the banks, has an audit trail and the Governments continue to collect their taxes.

Ultimately my question is, will Governments allow this sort of  “experimental currency” to continue? Can they stop it? It appears to already have a massive following. You can buy a coffee with it, you can play poker with it. There are sites where you can buy and sell Bitcoins such as Mt. Gox and there ar others too, although I noted that one of those has dissapeared and I noted a story there that Barclays had stopped allowing people to trade with them.

So what happens if the authorities stop Bitcoin? (assuming Google or someone else don’t buy them, but Bitcoin does seem to have an anti-establishment feel to it, but it could be all about the money).  Well there is also Dwolla,  LibertyReserve, and a host of other systems. I suspect that as cheap smartphones gain mass adoption in the blue collar world, there will be more interest and demand for ways to continue to do ‘cash deals’ without cash.

Futurists are talking about the Local-Global Duality with shifting borders and changing geopolitical landscapes. The one thing keeping us together as countries, or pulling us apart is money. Financial institutions and Governments  are struggling to maintain a status quo that will keep countries running. As countries grow deeper in debt after the GFC people rush to take their money out of the banks for fear of losing it altogether, which in turn intensifies the crisis.

Farmville Tractor

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I’m not saying I agree with currencies like Bitcoin. I still want my roads and infrastructure, order and safety in my community. I believe that one way or another money from illegal activity still works its way back in, like the guy I watched buying a car for over $30,000 in folding. I do suspect however that we will see a proliferation in ‘currencies’ like this in the future. I also suspect that the criminal elements in our societies could be the ones with the most to gain from them, but also that there will be many scams which will be developed to trick people in giving up real money for virtual currency which they will never be able to repatriate. Silly really, when they can legally create computer games and sell virtual stuff and pay tax on legally earned activity with much less risk.

What Do You Hate About Car Parks?


I recently asked you what you liked about car parks. I guess based on 25 votes and 3 comments, most of you don’t really think about this subject, which is fine. I appreciate your feedback.

So lets look at the negative side of car parking. What do you dislike about car parks? I can think of lots of things and maybe I can start you off with a few things to think about and I will also add another poll.

I went down to the new Wynyard Quarter a couple of weeks ago on a sunny Saturday for lunch. We thought we’d have a look at this new development, have lunch and enjoy the new showcase area in Auckland. We drove the 30km from our home, drove through all the car parks, couldn’t find a single park (this was around noon) and after 20 minutes of crawling in circles went to Takapuna for lunch. I hate going somewhere and not being able to get a park.

I hate not being able to find a suitable car park close to my destination when its raining. We’ve had more than our fair share of that this winter in New Zealand.

I hate car parks with small parking spaces and large pillars, which going by the black and other colour scrapings on them, do more than their fair share of damage.

Car parks with small spaces means that often motorists overlap into the park next to them, so that that the vacant park is rendered useless to anything other than a Beetle or a motorcycle.

I hate car parks where the machines only take cash and I very rarely carry cash any more.

I hated having my car broken into in a public car park and finding that the only video security available was there to stop people leaving the car park without paying! I haven’t used that particular car park since. I either walk further or go to a more expensive one in that area.

I hate car parks where the machine doesn’t work and all the staff seem to have gone on a break.

I hate parks that cost more than the activity I want to consume.

So how about leaving a comment and participating in the poll, you can even create a new question in it yourself. I am going to be presenting to the Parking Association later this year at their annual conference and want to give them an idea, positive and negative about their business. This includes curb side parking by the way. Any car parking dislikes at all.

I haven’t forgotten special needs car parks, but I want you to tell me about your experiences:)

As a footnote, this is not a bitch session. We are a motoring people and we need car parks. I am looking for feedback with a view to coming up with ideas as to how to make car parking more user friendly and attractive. I believe that there are many improvements possible and many opportunities for car parks to engage with their users and their community.

Blame the Technology and Australia


Continuing my search into what happened at Whitcoulls and Borders and  generally what’s going on with New Zealand retailers I am finding no surprises, which is a real worry. Two words come up a lot. Technology and Australia. I know a little of both. I live for technology and have trained many retailers over the years (including some who were already millionaires) and while the technology has changed, the principles haven’t. More on this to come.

Australia and New Zealand

As to Australia. In the 90′s many Australasian retailers who had New Zealand operated subsidiary chains based in New Zealand, decided to do away with local country management, local buyers etc.  and to save lots of money by treating their NZ shops as Australian branches. I guess they considered New Zealand as a slightly bigger Tasmania. Not huge, but worth having, especially if they didn’t put much effort into senior staffing  resources.

When performance decreased they blamed the economy, they said that NZ was just an over inflated state and it was always going to be that way, which was how they justified reducing local resources in the first place. The fact is while we may have a lot in common, we are not the same. We are made up of different cultures and history and have subtle differences in our lifestyles. Subtle enough that you can’t treat NZ stores the same as Australian stores and expect the same result.

Similar scenarios happened in many cases with the decades of American Globalisation. It’s funny really that America wanted to change Japan and the rest of Asia Pacific while Japan wanted to change the west. I well remember having discussions with senior management of Casio in Tokyo and Hamura about improving the software on their cash registers. One of the issues was that they hadn’t allowed for people pressing buttons in the wrong sequence. Have you ever been in a retail store when the ECR (Cash Register) is bleeping loud noises no matter what buttons are pushed and the stress it caused the cashier? Their initial response was “They must use the ECR in the right way or you should find better customers”. We ended up beta testing their software in NZ and Australia first and then getting Japan to tweak their software. That was one of the initiatives that helped us get 70% market share in the ECR market in NZ and helped Casio increase theirs around the world. But then of course the company I worked for was sold and I along with my boss and several other great people were made redundant despite the fact that we were doing really well, but because they thought we were earning too much. I’d love to know what their market share is in NZ now. I know it isn’t 70%. Anyway I’m going off on a tangent.

The big thing I noticed in the NZ stores was inventory management. They were carrying a lot of books that I wouldn’t think anyone would buy other than as a joke. I went back to Borders a week ago to jot some of the names down, but it looks like they went in the $1, $2, $5 sale and were gone. They had many dated books especially computing which must have been in store for several years, technical books on how to use software that almost no one has used in the last 5 years.

From what I’ve been told, someone automated the purchasing software to replace books that had sold, so for example if a particular book sold really well, say 5,000 copies, the system would replace with another 5,000 copies. Well there goes the profit from the first lot.

One of the things that makes New Zealand different is our ethnic communities. All over New Zealand, but particularly in Auckland we have clusters of ethnic communities; Chinese, Korean, South African, Indian, Pacific Islanders and more. Brands who fail to take that into consideration waste massive levels of stock by having the wrong product in the wrong locations, which then becomes shop soiled and potentially unsaleable.

Inventory needs to be managed locally by category managers who understand and are at the leading edge of their category and who understand their local market. They need to know weekly what is going on and understand who their customers are and what they are buying. Some books date more quickly than others and need to be moved on quickly, others will hold their value longer, but will still have a rapid half life.

In my previous blog about Whitcoulls and Borders I wrote about how they could follow the example of Amazon and know what their individual repeat customers were buying and therefore their interests and could recommend books to them. Amazon continue to prove that people in NZ will buy based on recommendations along the lines of “You bought these 3 books, other people who bought the same books also enjoyed the following titles”. Not only do we often buy them, but we also pay massive freight costs to get them here, at the same time as local book retailers are discounting stock that people aren’t buying. How smart is that?

One good way of dealing with this is using Business Analytics or Business Intelligence tools such as BIonaMAP, soon to be launched by New Zealand geospatial solution provider, GeoSmart. Fortunately for retail chains, this product will support both Australia and New Zealand, so users can have visibility over both countries.

BIonaMAP

Whitcoulls and Borders


I was thrilled to learn that the remaining Whitcoulls and Borders have been sold to Anne and David Norman. Now they have some hope. They will now live in the Pascoes Group and of course this group are known as having revived the ailing Farmers chain and given them new life.

Once the essential housekeeping details are sorted, such as property leases and staff contracts, there is every reason to hope that they will breathe new life into Borders and Whitcoulls.

That can not mean BAU or Business As Usual, because even though they did OK and the biggest problems were in Australia with REDGroup. Nevertheless these stores were not run optimally and they were not run with the times.

I heard people, partly lead by local publishers, saying that if the NZ stores were run from Australia, they would probably signal the demise of the NZ author. Certainly I agree that we would have seen less Kiwi authors in store, but I think ultimately either the publishers would have to become less greedy and insular or the local authors would start to embrace the new eBook media and of course in doing so they can either self publish or join Amazon or other local eBook publishers. Neither are ideal for people who love books.

As I’ve said in many previous blogs about Whitcoulls and Borders, a few of them can be found here, the first thing is to go back to basics. For these stores to be successful they need to operate smarter and provide what the modern shopper wants. There are many good examples overseas.

With the chain expanding, here a some ideas that I would look at.

  • Macy's

    Gift Registry. Chains like Macy’s in the USA have had phenomenal success with their national gift registry programs for decades. They have kiosks in store which are linked nationally. I was so excited the first time I went through one I almost bought a gift for a young man’s Bar Mitsva in Chicago. I was in New York at the time looking for a hat in one of the coldest winters I have ever experienced. It was so well laid out, there were thousands of special events from weddings to anniversaries and being national, you could see from New York, what a person in Madison Wisconsin had their hopes on. Given that the chain owns Farmers and a number of jewellery stores, this would be a great opportunity to combine the lot.

  • I keep harping on about Jeff Jarvis’ book What Would Google Do? It’s funny in a way that in one of his first blogs about the book, he suggests that you could buy it from Borders. The thing was though that I couldn’t buy it from Borders at the time because they didn’t have it, so I bought it from Amazon.
  • So I think that Borders and Whitcoulls need to start saying, what would Amazon do. So many companies are naive and believe their own hype that web retailers (only part of what they are) are no threat, or they consider them such a threat that when things go bad, they become a self fulfilling prophecy.

Hanging a few Kobo’s on the wall is not the answer, that has been a major botch up in my humble opinion. Even on the web, sell the sizzle on the home page! But some things they could do with their ‘loyalty’ programs is monitor what each customer buys and make recommendations based on the buyer habits. I have bought at least a dozen books on Amazon’s recommendations. Amazon is also much cheaper than buying locally, but that’s a different story because it costs a lot to get books to New Zealand, so unless you buy a stack of books, you pay back what you save on freight.

Amazon has many great features that can be just asdestination events

Mobile Marketing easily applied to a bricks and mortar chain, which has the benefit of being able to hold a book, tell you what store it is in and provide you with much quicker gratification.

I don’t want to write a book, but here a some things you may find in this blog in the coming days for Whitcoulls and Borders:

  • Becoming a destination for events such as readings and signings
  • Back to basics and way beyond in inventory management
  • A major web presence with lots of ideas perhaps sparked by What Would Google Do (which should be a mandatory read for all Whitcoulls and Borders management at all levels)
  • A new way for both stores to have lots of stock available, but not necessarily on the spot. A central warehouse with the option of home delivery could cut down inventory sizes without sacrificing range and depth.
  • Embrace proximity based marketing on mobile devices. I would strongly recommend that management from Borders, Whitcoulls, Farmers and in fact all retail chains attend the Mobile Marketing Forum in Auckland this June. This Forum could be called The Retailer Strikes Back. They will learn many new ideas at this event.
  • Understand their regional customer base. There is no point in carrying the same stock range in each store. It simply won’t work and you will have aged stock going on sale. Some of the category managers need to take a long hard look at the books they have been stocking and ask themselves what on earth possessed them to make some of the decisions they made? Or was it the publishers reps that conned them?
  • They should look at products like GeoSmart’s impending Business Intelligence on a MAP. This could produce many aha moments when used to geographically view their business results in combination with consumer demographics.
I could go on but that’s plenty for now. I think with the right motivation and attitude, these two stores can be not only revived, but will rise to new heights. But only if they stop living in the past of this is the way we always did it. They need to embrace and perhaps even lead the future. It’s not hard, its just thinking outside the square and remembering that it is the customers and the books that make your business. Its about the words and the stories and people.